Subject: [OPE-L:1752] Re: Re: Re: Re: value form
From: nicola taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sat Nov 27 1999 - 11:42:46 EST
The conversation between Paul, Costas and Allin raises critical
methodological issues. To cut down the work, here, i will be content to
try to signpost them:
> > I THINK THAT YOU MISUNDERSTOOD. MY CONCERN IS NOT TO DIFFERENTIATE
>> PRIVATE AND SOCIAL LABOUR, THAT IS OBVIOUS. INCIDENTALLY, TO CLAIM THAT
>> COOKING A MEAL AND SWEEPING THE FLOOR ARE MANIFESTATIONS OF 'ABSTRACT
>> PRIVATE LABOUR' IS A BIT LIKE CLAIMING THAT HAVING A SANDWICH AND EATING A
>> CHOCOLATE ARE MANIFESTATIONS OF ABSTRACT SATIATION OF HUNGER.
>There are two distinctions here
>1.private versus social labour
>2.abstract versus concrete labour
>the two axes are orthogonal.
>The abstract concrete distinction is just like the one you rather deride
>eating sandwiches and eating chocolate as abstract satiation of hunger.
>There is nothing funny about this comparison. It is exactly what is done
>when tables of calorie content are published for chocolate and sandwiches -
>they are comensurated on their abstract ability to satisfy hunger.
>I see no reason why this comparison invalidates the concept of abstract
>It appears to me that you are not keeping the two axes above orthogonal.
But it appears to me that Paul is confusing completely the 'substance' of
value with its 'measure' (as he is confusing the substance of hunger with
the calorific measure of particular foods). This 'purely economic' way of
treating phenomena is exactly what Marx complained about in Ricardo. It is
a fetishism directly related to the empiricist approach in that it
attributes to objects in their perceptible form, properties that in fact do
not belong to these objects. In contrast with Ricardo, Marx argues that
abstract labour has a 'ghostly objectivity'.
Fred has already asked the crucial question of what Marx means by 'ghostly
objectivity'? Disagreements about this are probably at the heart of all
other disagreements. In my view, Marx considered social labour to be a
purely objective process; it has an objective *reality* in relations of
production and exchange that exist independently of the consciousness of
the producers/exchangers. This objectivity is 'ghostly' in that the
'measure' of value cannot be arrived at by some sort of summing up of
labour times. Rather, value can only achieve *expression* as socially
necessary labour time; i.e. only through validation that private labour
expended in production is socially necessary.
This point is missed if concrete-abstract labour and private-social
categories are seen to be separable (objectified and fetishised) dimensions
(as in Paul's exposition). Concrete labour is a use-value creating process
that is qualitatively irreducible (and not specific to capitalism);
abstract labour alone is value creating - reducible to socially necessary
labour time (and is in this way the specific social form that private
labour takes under capitalism). In short, the quantitative and qualitative
dimensions of Marx's paired categories are resolved in a higher unity (not
along orthogonal axes!), and Costas is quite right to reject a methodology
that insists upon their separation. Paul's methodology results in
continual confusion between labour as a basic human activity (use-value
creating) and labour in its specific capitalist form (as value-creating).
>> MY POINT WAS THAT ABSTRACT LABOUR IS THE FORM NECESSARILY TAKEN BY SOCIAL
>> LABOUR IN CAPITALISM.
>This is confused. In what sense is abstract labour a form?
>All abstract labour must take on the form of some concrete labour to exist,
>concrete labours such as cooking, driving, bricklaying are the forms
>in which concrete labour must exist. All labour whether social or
>private has to exist in some concrete form in order to do anything,
>this is as true of capitalism as of any other society.
>Social labour under capitalism typically takes the form of waged labour
>but this a juridical form, which engenders a third axis
Allin agreed with Paul that the
>concrete/abstract and private/social distinctions are
>orthogonal. Robinson's private labour takes a variety of
>concrete forms, but these concrete forms may be considered as
>particular dispositions of his total available (abstract)
>labour. The same goes for the social labour time in a planned
>I suppose that "social labour" means labour that is not directed
>towards the satisfaction of the individual needs of the person
>performing the labour, but rather forms part of a social
>division of labour (planned or unplanned). I think that what is
>special about capitalism is not that "abstract labour is the
>form necessarily taken by social labour" (social labour is
>always both abstract and concrete) but that the social character
>of labour is only "validated" ex post, via the market, and that
>quanta of abstract labour are not calculated and represented as
>such, but are rather represented by quanta of money.
These arguments follow from methodology: Paul is not clear about the
specific features of labour under a capitalist economy; Allin is not clear
about the meaning of social labour. Both writers have missed Marx's
crucial point about the commodity having a double character (use-value and
value). The point is that labour also has a double character (a natural
transhistorical character independent of the mode of production and a
social character containing not a single atom of matter). When Marx talks
about abstract labour and value he talks about the social character of
labour as value-creating; that is abstract labour creates and recreates a
set of social relations attached to the relationship among things. What is
special about capitalism is that private labour can become social ONLY
through the transformation of concrete into abstract labour.
>3. waged versus unwaged labour.
>This too is orthogonal to the previous ones, as one can have
>waged labour that is both private( the work of a private servant)
>and social ( the work of a factory operative).
the creation of a third axis is a methodological artifact. It leads Paul to
miss Costa's point that under commodity production labour is not
immediately social, but is so only under relations of exchange on the
market (this is the case for both private servant and factory operative).
The formation of abstract labour is not a mental category but something
that takes place in a real process of exchange (a 'real abstraction', to
borrow from Chris A).
I accept Costas's view that abstract labour has analytic importance only in
a capitalist society. If we overlook the specificity of abstract labour,
then 'we necessarily overlook that which is the differentia specifica of
the value-form, and consequently of the commodity form, and its full
developments, money-form, capital-form etc' (Marx, Capital I, footnote,
p.81). Paul's view that prices in a precapitalist economy might be
regulated >> >more or less strictly, by a law of value>> > well illustrates
Marx's point when he said that exclusive concern for the content of value
-and neglect of value-form- is tantamount to the method of a physiologist
who thinks that 'the different forms of life are a matter of complete
indifference, that they are all only forms of organic matter'. In his
critique of classical theory, Marx distanced himself from this view: 'It is
precisely these forms that are alone of importance when the question is the
specific character of a mode of social production' (TSV, 1, p.295).
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